Budgeting Basics: Where to Start When You Have an Irregular Income

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Whether you work in a tip-based or a hustle-based profession, unpredictable income is a pain in the butt. Should you still budget? Can you still budget? Of course! It's so easy to get stuck in a cycle of paying off your debt when you're flush and relying on credit cards when you're broke. A budget will help you with that. But first, you have to get real.

Sit down with all your bills, all your card statements, all your receipts, all your bank accounts, all the little cogs in the money machine of your life. Then get to work.

Make a list of all of your regular expenses for the month like food, shelter, debt payoff, utilities, insurance, tuition, car payments, etc. Now list all of the irregular expenses, like parking, coffees, lunches out, and gifts. Finally, list all of your savings goals and how much you're contributing towards them.

Tally it up! If the total surprises you, that's ok. There are always ways to cut back a little. You can deal with that later. For now, it's budget time.

Take all of these items and their amounts and list them in order of importance. (Pro tip: Housing and food are more important than new clothes)

Now you know what you need to be your baseline income each month. If you make more than that number, fantastic! All of your items are crossed off and paid. Now you can stash a bit more in savings or pay off a little more debt.

If you don't make more than that, not as fantastic! But it is not the end of the world. Now you can see what you'll pay first and work your way down the line. The little bits left at the end are just the fun stuff anyways. You can do without this month.

This is just one method to balancing your unpredictable income and coming out on top. You could also get a month or two ahead of yourself and use that income as the basis for the following month's budget. For example, if you make $2,000 in June, use that as your spending base for July while stashing July's pay. Then use July's money to pay for August, and so on.

You could also average out your income and work from that number — but this only works if you've been keeping track for a year or so.

A budget doesn't restrict you from doing things; it actually enables you to make choices based on what's important to you. Take the time to look at your money and see what you're working with. You can focus your energy better when you know where you stand.